SURROGATES, George W. Bush is trying to discredit
the story of John Kerry, war hero. John Kerry
should not leave his defense to surrogates.
readers know I do not appreciate Kerry's nuance
regarding Iraq, his fence-straddling on issues
like gay marriage and his recent effort to finesse
a career of pro-choice votes by now stressing
a belief that life begins at conception. It adds
up to an unseemly effort to side-step the label
that best describes his voting record: liberal.
Kerry should focus more on the lessons of Vietnam,
and less on his heroics in Vietnam. If he were
true to those lessons, he would not be telling
voters he would have voted to authorize war with
Iraq knowing all that we now know.
criticizing him for political expedience is different
from calling him a liar. That's what the Swift
Boat Veterans for Truth are doing. By questioning
Kerry's version of events during his tour of duty,
these veterans are helping Bush plant seeds of
doubt about Kerry's truthfulness.
is something ridiculous about a president without
credibility attacking his opponent's credibility.
ridiculous as it may be, Kerry ignores the attack
at his peril. If Bush and Kerry are both liars,
it gives voters a reason to rationalize sticking
is the known purveyor of false information. He
is the president who convinced a nation to wage
war because, as he told us, Iraq represented an
imminent threat to America. He is the president
who invaded another country on the basis of bad
intelligence or bad faith -- it doesn't really
matter which. Either scenario explains why people
don't trust the administration's terror warnings.
Bush's current state of political vulnerability
is a direct product of the nation's collective
skepticism about him and his administration. Based
on their track record, there is precious little
reason to trust them on anything.
offers the promise of a credible voice speaking
truth to Americans and the world. Therefore, Bush's
one hope for reelection rests in changing that
perception about Kerry. The incumbent must somehow
turn this election into a choice between liars.
That's what the Bush campaign is doing via the
book, "Unfit for Command," written by the Vietnam
veterans who question Kerry's actions in the war,
and via a Willie Horton-like television commercial
by those same vets that has been denounced by
Democrats and Republicans alike. However, having
surrogates denounce an ad and question the motives
of the attackers does not necessarily diminish
their effectiveness. There are two lines of attack:
the first is that Kerry does not deserve his war
medals; the second raises doubts about past statements
Kerry made about being in Cambodia on Christmas
Eve in 1968.
unlikely voters will be swayed much by questions
about Kerry's specific acts of heroism. For every
charge about what he did and under what circumstances,
there are crewmates who passionately vouch for
his bravery. Besides, many voters will conclude
that simply by being in Vietnam, Kerry put his
life on the line; who are they to judge what makes
a hero? (Clearly, "modest hero" will not be his
epitaph, but that is another issue.)
statements about Cambodia do have traction for
opponents. He has referred to spending Christmas
or Christmas Eve 1968 in Cambodia and coming under
fire. At the time Cambodia was neutral and supposedly
off-limits to US troops. "I remember Christmas
of 1968 sitting on a gunboat in Cambodia," Kerry
said in 1986 at a Senate committee hearing on
US policy toward Central America. "I remember
what it was like to be shot at by the Vietnamese
and Khmer Rouge and Cambodians and have the president
of the United States telling the American people
that I was not there, the troops were not in Cambodia.
I have that memory which is seared -- seared --
Kerry campaign now says Kerry's runs into Cambodia
came in early 1969. "Swift boat crews regularly
operated along the Cambodian border from Ha Tien
on the Gulf of Thailand to the rivers of the Mekong
south and west of Saigon," Michael Meehan, a Kerry
adviser, said in a statement last week. "Many
times he was on or near the Cambodian border and
on one occasion crossed into Cambodia at the request
of members of a special operations group."
like that aren't good enough. Kerry put his Vietnam
service before voters as the seminal character
issue of his presidential campaign. He should
answer every question voters have about it --
and he should answer them himself.
Vennochi's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.
Posted: August 20, 2004